Winning Work: Starting a sexual revolution in conservative China

Following a number of wins at last year's Mumbrella Asia Awards, PHD China’s Lara Yang relives how contraceptive brand Yasmin broke Chinese cultural taboos in order to bring much-needed sexual education to the country's youth

PHD’s campaign for Yasmin, ‘Sex-Ed Revolution’, took China by surprise by making a bold step in addressing one of the country’s greatest cultural taboos – sex and contraception.

Starting a dialogue: why Yasmin had to tackle China’s cultural taboos to raise its brand profile

Despite the risk of upsetting China’s authorities and not fitting with their conventional content regulations, the campaign forged ahead and went viral in a matter of days, proving that it was exactly what millions of young Chinese adults were waiting for.

Having just been approved to be sold as an over-the-counter medication without prescription for the first time, female contraceptive pill brand Yasmin’s goal was to increase sales by more than 10 per cent.

However, with poor sex education and lack of category understanding, the job would require a dynamic campaign on minimal budget to influence young Chinese adults whose ‘regular’ contraceptive methods included from the morning after-pill to abortions.

Developing a well-rounded strategy that stood up to the test of execution was demanded from this limited budget campaign.

China carries out a mind-boggling 13 million abortions a year, the highest abortion rate in the world.

By contrast, there are only 16 million births every year.

Information regarding contraception is absent in school curriculums and young Chinese seek out sex knowledge from their equally uninformed peers – or, more worryingly – from internet porn.

As such, the general attitude to sex in China is immature and unsafe sex is prevalent. Contraception advertising is generally limited to promoting condoms – targeting men, – while most communication to women around this topic is adverts for cheap abortions for less than US$100.

At the same time, ‘coitus interruptus’ is still the most preferred form of pregnancy avoidance, with about 2.5 per cent preferring the morning after pill.

So when Bayer Women’s Health’s combined oral contraceptive pill – under the brand name Yasmin – was given over-the-counter China Food and Drug Administration approval on July 6 2016, it was time to starting planning how we could overcome the nation’s ingrained sex habits.

In order to start a dialogue on the topic of sex , we needed grab attention in a pretty conservative society, and from then on, nurture a change in behaviour.

We planned to start a ‘revolution’ on Chinese university campuses, which we could deliver straight to the hands of the young students – through their mobile phones.

The mobile-led campaign featured two candid educational videos that were distributed through a timetable app, reaching over 18 million students across 3,000 Chinese universities.

These videos were dropped into students’ curriculums as a compulsory class at 9pm every night.

In just one week, the videos acquired 12 million views, climbing to 30 million within the first month. The fan page on Weibo was visited by over 20 million users, sparking over 100,000 online discussions on a topic traditionally thought to be taboo.

Reported as “an event owed to generations in China”, Yasmin’s ‘Sex-Ed Revolution’ achieved global recognition at the 2017 Cannes Lions festival.

The campaign was also the most-celebrated campaign at the Mumbrella Asia Awards in 2017, collecting four trophies and earning PHD China the ‘APAC Media Agency of the Year’ title as well for being the most-awarded media agency in the competition.

Overall, the campaign idea took place on a solid understanding of Yasmin’s business and challenges. Although combined oral contraceptives (COC) are one of the most popular contraception methods in the West, they come under crushing pressure in China because of deep-rooted and cultural misconceptions

It was only through research that we realised that Chinese university students were sorely lacking vital information when it came to sex education, despite it being widely accepted and implemented in other countries.

This gigantic gap between the identified need and supply provided us with the opportunity to appear as a pro-bono figure, raise Yasmin’s brand awareness and find a way to truly resonate with China’s youth.

Lara Yang is group social director at Omnicom Media Group China


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